Rise of the Lich King

The Prince of Lies Arrives
2nd Level - Poor decisions make great opportunities

After a long week of revelling in Mersey following their defeat of the white dragon and rescue of the farmer’s son, our heroes set sail for Shadow Port and a promised meeting with the Prince of Shadows aboard the river barge ‘Serenity’. Over the course of the first few days of their journey, they befriended (well, all but Banyan) a Dwarven survivor of the Sea Wall named Fergus and a wizard, Duncan, whose noble bearing appeared ill-matched to his apparent station.

But not three days into the trip, Banyan received a cryptic vision sent by the Elf Queen featuring a shadowy individual, the gem they had plucked from the dead white’s neck, and a cataclysmic storm that washed away all before it. The urgency Banyan felt was crushing, and the directive was clear. The Elf Queen wanted the gem, and it was at risk.

And so our heroes found themselves on the shores of the river just north of Foothold, their noses clogged with the smell of damp pines and their clothes soaked through to the bone by the heavy and ceaseless rain, watching the barge depart down river. Behind them, the wildness stretched on until it disappeared into the storm.

They set off into the woods and before long found evidence of some kind of banditry – a broken carriage and several bodies, amongst which was that of the mysterious Stranger they had met just over a week ago in Mersey, nearly beheaded. It appeared he would never make it to Shadow Port to arrange that meeting for them – and what was worse, he no longer had possession of the red jewel they had risked so much to obtain for him.

Following the trail of some poor soul who had crawled away from the ambush they soon found another recent acquaintance, the Gnomish wizard Fitz Glitterstave, dying beneath a copse of trees. Restored to health by the cleric Brynne, Glitterstave told them of how the caravan had been set upon on the road near dusk the previous night by a pack of chained ghouls, driven by a cloaked giant – frighteningly tall, he had fought with an immense bastard sword and had towered over even the tallest of the caravan’s guards. When a gust of wind had caught his hood, Glitterstave said, the monster had been revealed to wear an iron mask carved into the shape of a skull. He had taken something from the Stranger – whose true name Glitterstave had learned was Nick, and then driven his pack of ghouls into the night.

Asked whether he could help the party find this beast, Glitterstave said he could have cast a tracking spell had he still had possession of his spell book. Glitterstave lamented he must have lost it somewhere and would bring great shame upon his family for having misplaced it once again. After much searching of the immediate surrounds, Banyan found the spell book (if his pouch, where he had secreted it after removing it from the pack of the dying Gnome) and made a great show of returning it and reminding the Gnome who it was who was returning his valuable artefact. The trusting wizard thanked the ill-mannered elf and cast the spell, revealing a set of ghostly green footprints to follow.

And follow they did, right to a large cluster of weathered boulders. Thorny, tangled vines had all but covered them, however they appeared to have been hacked away in one spot to reveal a narrow passage leading down into a darkened cavern. Leaving Glitterstave to mind the donkey Sam, the party set off down into the dungeon below.

Over ancient hand-carved stairs and through dank passageways the heroes marched, for hours it seemed, until they came upon a heavy oaken door. The door opened upon a large chamber, within the centre of which rested a large sarcophagus upon which lay the stone effigy of some king of another age. Pottery shards covered the floor, presumably destroyed by looters in years past, and brackets upon which may once have hung rich tapestries hung loosely from the walls, victims of age and ill-care.

Yet of most concern to the group were the dozen shambling old soldiers, long since dead, the dry remnants of their flesh hanging loosely from their frames. Yet several more appeared newly risen, as though some magic had called them forth to bar the heroes’ way. About their feet, snapping irritably at each other, skittered several huge rats, dire in their appearance.

Our heroes made the most of the narrow passage down which they had come to funnel the undead into two rows and proceeded to pick them apart one by one. Brynne found her concentration lacking this day, failing to land more than a few minor blows, yet Banyan made up for her ill luck by dispatching three zombies, one of which he dispatched with a blade to the brain whilst standing atop its bony shoulders. Danton promised to write a great ballad about the heroic feat, though stopped short of undertaking that Banyan would be the hero of such a tale. Meanwhile, Duncan’s Ray of Frost felled many of the foul creatures clawing their way into the passageway (and nearly took of Brynne’s head in the bargain), and Fergus’ axe cleaved a path through the last of them.

Finally free to surge forth into the room, our heroes bickered about the wisdom in disturbing the tomb, particularly having partially translated a warning that indicated disturbing the lord’s rest would be a mistake. With Fergus and Banyan placing aside millennia of ill will in the common cause of loot, and Danton, Duncan and Brynne standing well back from what they were certain would be waves of undead to erupt forth, the Elf and Dwarf dragged the lid from the tomb to find… old bones.

And loot.

The tomb looted, the party resumed its onwards march into the darkness.

The tomb looted, the party resumed its onwards march into the darkness. They soon came upon a deep crevasse, over which hung the rusting remains of a sconce. Our heroes looped a grappling hook around it and one by one swung across until only Brynne and Fergus were left. As Brynne swung across the chasm however, the sconce came free and Brynne began to tumble to her doom. Luckily, our resourceful heroes had tied a rope about her waist, and hauled her back up the other side. Fergus however was now trapped. Not to be troubled by such a trifling issue as a bottomless crevasse, Fergus took a run at the wall on one side and, more nimbly than any Elf could have hoped to appear, crossed without breaking a sweat.

After several more hours of cautious travel, our heroes came upon a treasure room of some kind, with a chest in the centre and a table off to one side for counting. Smelling a trap, our heroes were reluctant to push on without first solving the mystery of the room. Fergus, recalling a similar dilemma he faced some years before when chasing Nazgaroth, an Elven lieutenant of the Orc Lord(!) through a series of tunnels not dissimilar to these, realised this was a floating floor, and one wrong step was liable to send the hapless party member down into a pit and into the gnashing jaws of whatever awaited below. Unperturbed, the sure-footed Elven rogue Banyan raced out to the centre of the room, narrowly avoiding a plummet into the pit again thanks to the careful planning of the party, which ensured each party member was roped together. Balancing out the floating floor with Duncan, Banyan slipped through the door on the other side and set the floor with the lever in the corridor.

On they trudged through the labyrinth until they came upon a narrow passage, the walls of which had grown over with moss. Keen-eyed Brynne spotted some carving on the wall and, scraping the moss from the sight, translated a single word – duck. As one, the adventurers dropped, the whirling blades spinning out of the walls missing them by less than a second. Brynne realised with some shock that the word that had saved their lives was not written in any language known to man – rather, it had been scrawled in a language she had created as a child. She had written it, yet she could not recall how, or when. Was this some clue to her past? Surely so!

The party soon found themselves outside a great gilded door, the entrance to an old throne room. Within they spied a great chamber – threadbare carpets of the finest kind stretched from end to end, and at the rear of the hall sat an imposing throne crafted from the broken shields of, the party assumed, some lord’s defeated foes. Stained glass windows lined the walls, many long since destroyed, behind which were once lit dozens of candles. All of which lay beneath several thick and ropey layers of spider web. The party backed out of the room swiftly, setting the webs ablaze with oil from their lanterns. After time enough for the fire to consume the webs, they re-entered to find a giant web spider and two only-slightly smaller hunting spiders, flanked by several ettercaps who, it appeared, were seeking to appease the enraged beasts. At the sight of the party, the creatures attacked. Danton cast a spell that set one of the ettercaps against his brethren, whilst the party fought valiantly against the enraged spiders and their keepers. Before long, the last of the creatures fell, and following a search of the room that revealed yet more valuable loot and an exceptionally rare Symbol of Gathered Power – a golden wyrm eating its own tail – with Brynne’s name upon the back. Another clue to her past history with this place. But the mystery was to remain unsolved… for now.

For another hour they pressed on, clambering over ruined sections of tunnel and pushing through small rooms, long since looted. They could hear the sound of some mighty river raging for some time before they turned a corner and stepped out suddenly into a large cavern, cutting across which was a wild river. In the centre of the river, all but her bare chest and head beneath the churning water, was an exquisite statue with eyes of opal. She almost seemed to regard the party as it stood upon the shore, trapped by the rapids. The path continued beyond.

Brynne recognised the statue of the goddess Rhea, often depicted as a mermaid. Brynne told the party that, in mythology, Rhea often tested travellers with riddles for passage across wild waters. Duncan stepped forward and beseeched the goddess to present her riddles. The goddess responded, offering three riddles which our heroes miraculously solved with a minimum of consternation. The waters parted and they were permitted to pass.

The tunnel began to open up beyond the river, and rose towards the surface. After what felt like an eternity of hard marching, the walls began to appear clean and smooth, as though this area has been well cared for. In the distance, at the edge of your torchlight, the party saw before them two lanterns hanging before a double door of oak, and from within they could hear chanting in a foul, guttural language.

Entering, they found themselves at the head of a staircase that descended for, perhaps, 30 metres. Below, they saw an enormous cavern, about the walls of which lay hundreds, if not thousands, of cavities filled with mouldering bones. This was evidently a burial site. At the centre of the cavern stood a great stone ring upon which was carved dozens of glowing runes. Four pillars ringed a gathering of shambling undead creatures, at the centre of which stood a large figure who appeared cloaked in darkness. His hands outstretched, he was chanting in a deep, otherworldly cadence and, within his gauntleted palm, rested the jewel stolen from the Stranger. It glowed like a small star. Lightning roared between the stone, the pillars and the ring, and the stone ring was slowly beginning to rotate. Something was being summoned. Above, the tone of the ritual shook the softly glowing stalactites, hundreds of which overhung the ritual like the teeth of some gnarled beat.

The party acted swiftly to bring an end to this foul ritual. Banyan loosed an arrow that knocked the jewel from the hand of the creature and sent it skittering across the floor while Danton broke into song and unleashed a mighty sound wave at the ceiling, bringing the stalactites and a large section of roof crashing to the cavern floor. But not before the party glimpsed the furious visage of their opponent – a Lich Prince – mere moments before he was buried in rubble.

Fergus quickly wrenched a shield from a nearby statue and rode the ancient piece of armour down the stairs and into the settling dust in search of the jewel, while Duncan and Banyan raced down to aid in the search.

It was Duncan who found it first but, just as he sought to snatch it from the floor, the Lich’s hand broke through the rubble and grabbed his robes. Duncan tore them loose and ran as the Lich rose from the wreckage and pursued, his form snapping in and out of reality as it gained quickly on him.

Suddenly Brynne’s voice carried out over the cavern, alerting her comrades to a nearby exit. Duncan changed course and, the Lich Prince at his heals, threw the jewel to Banyan. But luck was not with either party this day, as the jewel flew astray and bounced across the floor, away from the exit. The Lich cast soul rend on Duncan as he passed, and strode on as the dead rose to drag Duncan to the underworld. Meanwhile, Fergus, spying the gem, made the agonising decision to pursue the jewel, and not his freedom.

As Banyan now raced towards the exit, he realised he knew this Lich – he had seen his rebirth some years ago whilst marooned on Necropolis. To buy his newfound friend (well, travelling companion) some time, Banyan called out his name – “Medregoth”. The creature stopped as if stunned, and Banyan took flight, joining his other friends at the passage. Yet Medregoth’s shock was fleeting, and further enraged by the party’s audacity, he let loose an arcane blast (GM Note: I rolled a 20 – critical hit!) that crushed every bone in the brave dwarf’s body (GM Note: I offered the party an opportunity to save Fergus via a campaign loss, but the party was unmoved – Fergus sacrificed himself in the caverns of the Lich Prince…).

Snatching the jewel with a ghostly mage hand, Duncan led the party up the passage towards the surface, the Lich Prince Medregoth at their heels. Ahead they saw the darkness begin to dissipate, and soon they stumbled out into the light to find themselves staring out over an expanse of nothingness. Below, several hundred feet below, the river carried on peacefully. They were trapped.

Turning, they came face to face with the iron mask of Medregoth, his great sword dragging behind him and his right fist crackling with arcane power.

Then suddenly dozens of bolts of light lanced past them as a dirigible swept into view, at its helm Fitz Glitterstave, one hand on the wheel and the other firing magic missiles at the party’s pursuer. He kicked open the door to the dirigible and barked, in his high, sing-song voice, “Come with me if you want to live!”

The party dove aboard the dirigible as Medrogoth sent a devastating blast of negative energy into the vessel, sending it careening out into space and into a spin. The party heard Glitterstave shout “We’re going down!”

And all cut suddenly to black.

GM Note: Just a quick note about ‘advantages’ – I changed the system in this session to allow players to decide when they wished to use and advantage and prompted them to come up with a story for how their relationship with an icon assisted them in any given scenario. Some of the developments above which might otherwise seem cute were a direct result of their creativity. These little vignettes really helped to flesh out the characters’ backstories, and I look forward to working some of these elements back in in later sessions.

No Mersey for the White
1st Level - A cautionary tale for GMs

It was a fine afternoon upon which our heroes became acquainted at the Welcome Inn in the town of Mersey, a small and normally sleepy hamlet on the outskirts of the Cairnwood. Danton the Great’s arrival at the inn preceded, as it usually does, a virtuoso performance by the bard upon his antique lute and a bout of shameless and desperate flirting with the Innkeep’s daughter Em. This performance came at the expense of one Gnomish bard, Tip Wondersong, who had already less-than-firmly ensconced himself by the fire in an effort to capture the attention of the larger-than-usual audience that day. Danton cruelly, if dexterously and completely deniably, shamed the tiny bard, who realised swiftly his days in Mersey were numbered and exited quietly through the back door.

Danton’s arrival was followed soon after by that of a cleric, Brynne, whose disheveled appearance and vacant expression detracted only marginally from her statuesque physique and striking appearance. Brynne took a seat at the only table available, that of Danton.

Finally, the afternoon was capped off by the arrival of a surly and pompous Elven rogue Banyan, who immediately courted controversy by declaring the inn stank of dwarves. Banyan’s life was saved by a quick thinking Danton, who broke into the well-known and universally loved (amongst Dwarves) drinking song ‘The Bearded Maiden’. Banyan made his way to the bar, where his unique brand of socialisation uncovered details of a spate of recent disappearances, and the whereabouts of a local mystic who may know more and whose talent for wart removal was evidently questionable at best.

It was about this time when the revelry was interupted by the arrival of an old man in distress alleging his son Samuel had been taken by a dragon overnight. The old man, Danriel, was seen to by the kindly cleric, who escorted him outside to speak more of this matter, trailed by Banyan, whose curiosity was piqued and whose nose was, regardless, overly full of the scent of unwashed dwarf.

Outside, Banyan found himself drawn aside by a stranger who introduced himself mysteriously as… The Stranger… and informed him their mutual friend the Prince of Shadows required his service. The Stranger confirmed the old man’s tale and added the dragon, a White, wore around its neck a red stone of value to the Prince. Banyan was to retrieve the stone and deliver it anon. Banyan sought to bargain with The Stranger who, finally fed up with the intractable Elf’s arguing, stormed off into the inn, where he approached another of the Prince’s supposed agents, Danton. In Danton he found a more agreeable conversationalist, and so threw in a secondary objective – the retrieval of one of the beast’s claws. Outsmarted by the honeyed tongue of the bard however, The Stranger agreed to set up an encounter with the Prince prior to receipt of the claw. Much pleased with himself (a permanent state of being for Danton it appears), the bard swept out of the inn and into the night in search of the old man and his new companions.

Danton and Banyan acquainted themselves while Brynne helped to settle the frzzled nerves of the old farmer. After seeing him home, the party set out to locate the mystic before setting out towards the Cairnwood, allegedly the direction the dragon was last seen travelling.

Arriving at the mystic’s residence as the sun began to dip below the horizon, the party discovered an obvious fraud named Benrath who, it appeared, was seeking to lay blame for the disappearances on a sorceress who lived out by the forest and who, he feared, might eat into his profits. He was singularly otherwise unhelpful and suggested the players may wish to run her off before the townsfolk took matters into their own hands.

The party decided to set out for the sorceress’s hut, hoping to speak to her and explore the possibility she may, in fact, be involved in some conspiracy. The players arrived not long after sunset were they were far from well-met by Saerin, a young sorceress who had made her home by the Cairnwood and who, it was evident, would be happy to watch the entire town burn before offering any aid. Danton happened however to notice an artifact upon a shelf at the rear of the cottage with symbology suggestive of the sorceress’s allegiance to the Diabolist, and sought to engage her as kindred spirits. Whilst this failed to soften her stance on assisting the townsfolk, Saerin offered instead to point the party towards the likely location of the dragon’s lair in exchange for a spellbook carried by a gnomish wizard who passed by not long ago. The players accepted the agreement and Saerin pointed them in the direction of a ruined fort lying not too deep into the forest. banyan warned Saerin that forces within the town were seeking to lay the blame for the disappearances at her feet. Saerin laughed and told Banyan she welcomed their approach.

The party bickered for some time after about the wisdom of camping the night in a forest so close to an active Hellhole, however Banyan’s obstinacy and unwillingness to spend the night in a den of dwarves and humans led the party to set out seeking a nearby clearing in the outskirts of the forest.

And a clearing they found, though it was currently in use by a goblin raiding party, amidts which lay a trussed gnome in torn and bloodied wizard’s robes. Banyan and Danton snuck up on the clearing whilst Brynne in her chainmail stayed back on the road with her donkey, Sam. Communication being one of Banyan’s many areas of performance requiring improvement, he launched an arrow from the scrub at a nearby goblin when the creature made the mistake of urinating in his direction. The arrow flew wide and thudded into the spit upon which the goblins were roasting their dinner. All hell broke loose as the raiding party rose as one and charged for the arrow-launching scrub. Banyan too rose up, his concealment compromised, and fought for his life as Brynne charged through the scrub towards the conflict and Danton considered whether he should let the Elf receive his just desserts. Ultimately deciding the ballad may play better were he involved in the battle, he slipped from the bushes and entered the fray. With Brynne’s arrival tipping the balance, the goblins were quickly dispatched.

The grateful Gnome introduced himself as Fitz Glitterstave, the youngest son of the great wizarding dynasty of Glitterstave. Prior to setting out for Mersey, promising to sing songs of the brave band of adventurers who had defeated a hundred goblins to rescue him, Glitterstave asked them to return his spellbook, lost in the scuffle near a burial mound when he was captured, if they should came upon it. Glitterstave explained it was a family heirloom, passed down for generations by great Glitterstave wizards. The party agreed to keep an eye out for it.

The party spent the night at the camp, awakening to the smell of rotting goblin corpses and the buzz of flies, and then set off further into the woods whilst danton regaled them with exaggerated tales of his daring-do. It was not long before they came upon the burial mound in the dark forest, not far from the road, where they could hear faint chanting. Brynne climbed the mound seeking the source of the sound when suddenly from beneath the earth errupted several corpses which clutched at her and sought to drag her to her doom. Danton circled around the mound to discover a Kobald Grand Wizard casting a spell from a book that looked suspiciously like the one Glitterstave had described to the party the night prior. Danton made short work of the creature before entering the fray with the undead. Meanwhile, Banyan fought off the almost obsessive attentions of a skeletal hound that appeared fixated with tearing his leg off. When the dust settled however, the party emerged victorious, standing amidst a pile of dead… er… again… corpses. Pocketing the spellbook, they party set off for the ruin which, from Saerin’s, should not have been too distant now.

As the players crested a rise, they came upon a deep ravine, at the bottom of which crashed deadly rapids. Across the ravine they could see the ruins in the distance, poking through the canopy. Over the ravine creaked an ancient bridge, held up it appeared by the lack of a strong breeze and dust of ages. Danton set out across the bridge but was held up at the halfway point by a rain of javelins from the edge of the forest across the ravine. Danton retreated the the safety of the other side of the bridge as a couple of kobald warriors came charging out of the forst to cut the ropes holding the bridge aloft. The party launched their counter attack swiftly, peppering the kobalds at the bridge with arrows. One went over the edge, an arrow to the throat, yet his companion, not overly fond of his fellow warrior, sawed through one rope and began on the other. Banyan, his patience at an end, leapt onto the remaining rope and nimbly ran across it, cat like, before catapulting himself over the kobalds head before removing it. Danton and Brynne then raced across the bridge to aid in the fight between Banyan and the kobald archers. The party dispatched all but one, who waggled his tongue at Banyan, gave an ululating cry, and raced off into the forest to ‘warn [his] mistress!’

Banyan, incensed by the creature’s escape and perceived mockery, charged off towards the ruin, Danton and Brynne trailing in his wake. The bridge collapsing behind them, the party raced off and soon arrived in a clearing, in the centre of which rested the old ruins of a keep. From within the players could hear the gutteral mutterings of kobalds and the sound of breaking bones as something large feasted. Banyan climbed one of the trees nearby to gain a vantage point over the ruin and saw, below, the kobald who had escaped from. His good sense departing him, Banyan launched an arrow at the creature [GM Comment: Banyan rolled a 1!]. The arrow was snatched out of the air before it could crest the ruin as the white dragon exploded into the air, launching itself at Banyan. Kobald skykclaws came leaping over the ruins, igniting their alchemical packs and flying in ragged formation towards the players. On the ground, a lone kobald hero came charging towards Danton and Brynne, a fine short sword of ancient magic-forged steel in its claws.

Banyan launched a volley of arrows at the dragon, wounding and enraging it. The dragon in turn launched a withering attack against the party, its cold breath almost laying Danton and Brynne low whilst it clawed and bit at Banyan, trying to drag him from the tree down which he was quickly scampering.

Below, Brynne and Danton fought off the attacks of the skyclaws, assisted by the shaky landing and subsequent explosion of one of the fool creatures.

And then Danton stepped forward and in a voice clear as crystal sang out a line of an ancient ballad, into which he wove his own name, roaring ‘DANTON!’ and issuing forth a mighty soundwave that caught the dragon mid-flight and threw him hard against the walls of the ruin, dead.

Seeing his mistress so quickly dismissed, the kobald hero turned and fled before being shot down by the party. Banyan retrieved the magic blade and cut free the red stone which the players found attached to the dragon’s neck by a gold chain. Danton set to removing one of the beast’s claws and its head. As the party prepared to set off for Mersey, they heard a plaintive cry from a cage dangling from one of the ruined walls of the fort. Inside they spied a young boy – the young boy they had set out to rescue and subsequently forgot. Brynne released the boy and saw to his wounds before departing the ruin for town.

Returning to town two days later, having to find another way over the ravine, the party found a makeshift bonfire had been erected in the centre of town, upon which Saerin awaited her fate, spitting venemous verbal barbs at all who would listen. Whilst the boy, Samuel, was reunited with his father, Danton caught the attention of the townsfolk and spun a tale of a brave bard who, with his supporting cast of characters that included a surly Elf and a hapless Cleric, had brought low a dragon and saved the life of an innocent sorceress. Brynne cut Saerin down as the town cheered and celebrated the heroics of the brave Danton the Dragonslayer, his woman and his Elf.

As the town slipped into a night of celebration, the party was approached by both Saerin and then Glitterstave. Saerin was disappointed to learn that the party had not retrieved the spellbook as agreed, particularly given Danton and Banyan’s most obvious surprise at Brynne’s decision not to part with the book. As a gesture of gratitude for saving her life, Saerin let the matter slide. The book was then returned to a grateful Glitterstave, who promised to tell the party’s tale to all who would listen.

The Stranger subsequently approached Danton and Banyan and retrieved the red stone for the Prince of Shadows. Danton, mincing words, told The Stranger he would receive the claw once the meeting with the Prince was arranged. The Stranger departed, advising the party to make their way to Shadow Port, there to be met by the Prince of Shadows….

And so ended Chapter 1, in which the players defeated a dragon, saved a town, levelled up and taught a GM to increase the difficulty of encounters….

We made Icon Relationship rolls at the end of the game for the next (because I struggled to effectively impliment these after rolling at the beginning of the session), with the following results:

Banyan – An advantage (Prince of Shadows) / A complicated advantage (Lich King)
Brynne – A complicated advantage (Great Gold Wyrm)
Danton – An advantage (Diabolist)


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